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Speculators part of the system

Manama

By ARTHUR MACDONALD, December 3, 2007

The governor of the Central Bank of Bahrain became rather vocal over the weekend as the dinar and other GCC currencies continue to come under pressure.

He accused foreign banks of unethically piling pressure on Gulf currency pegs with the US dollar and warned that the CBB would take action against anyone targeting the dinar.

I would be interested to know what action a central bank can take against international financial institutions who are speculating against Gulf currencies.

The problem here is that many massive institutions make a living out of trading currencies on a daily basis and, while some may call them speculators others will say they are just market makers who provide the liquidity that makes the world go round.

But the bottom line is that speculators are out there. They are part of the system and there is not a lot you can do about them. If they genuinely believe that a currency pegged to another, or even to a basket of currencies, is out of kilter with financial fundamentals, then they are likely to take a position to benefit from that.

That is what they do for a living.

Take the case of George Soros and his Quantum Fund which he set up in 1970. In 10 years it averaged a return for investors of 42.5 per cent a year, which works out at more than 3,000pc over the decade.

This made him a highly respected financial figure both with his shareholders, not surprisingly, but also with the financial community at large.

But he became a bit unpopular in the UK in the 1990s when he became known as the man who broke the Bank of England.

At the time the UK, for reasons best known to the Conservative party, was trying to peg sterling to the German mark. This was a kind of reversal of the position the dinar finds itself in, because the UK was trying to support its weak currency against a strong deutschmark.

In order to do this the then Chancellor of the Exchequer was spending the banks' reserves like there was no tomorrow to prop up an ailing pound.

The UK economy was weak while Germany was powering ahead and Mr Soros decided that the financial fundamentals were flawed.

In 1992 he sold short some $10 billion of sterling, a lot of money in those days, banking on the idea that either sterling would devalue or interest rates would go through the roof.

On what became known as Black Wednesday on September 16 the pound began to crumble and the Chancellor, Norman Lamont in a panic hiked interest rates by 2pc to 12pc and authorised spending billions to support sterling.

Later the same day he was considering a further 3pc rate rise, but wiser council prevailed and the government threw in the towel, devalued its currency and stopped trying to peg it to deutschmark.

Mr Soros pocketed more than $1 billion in profit for his day's work and the Conservative party has been unelectable in the UK ever since.

At the time there was much weeping and wailing in the financial press about the need to clamp down on unscrupulous speculators, but nothing much happened.

Indeed come the Asian financial crisis in 1997 Mr Soros again trousered a healthy profit from speculation only to be described as a moron by the then prime minister of Malaysia.

In Thailand he was described as an economic war criminal who sucks the blood from the people.

Strangely, Mr Soros is not a supporter of unregulated free market capitalism but is a believer in a mixed economy and argues in favour of regulations to control speculation which undermines healthy economic development in under developed countries.

At the same time he takes the view that he could not have made $1 billion out of sterling if the government had not been supporting an unsupportable level for sterling.

Now I have no reason to believe that Mr Soros has currently any interest in the dinar or any other GCC currency.

But what appears to be<


Tags: Gulf | Dinar | speculators |

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